The second day of the Cheltenham Festival is being billed as one of potential ruin for bookmakers. Among other things, David Cleary runs the rule over the shorties the layers fear...
"Might Bite is more tempting. Whether he will take to cross country is an unknown, but he has the ability to trouble Tiger Roll if he does, and he's probably the only one in this field of which that is true. He's been in the doldrums a while, but there were definite green shoots at Newbury last time and this is a much less competitive race than he's used to running in."
Tiger Roll, Envoi Allen and Appreciate It, three of the shortest-priced favourites of the whole week are all set to go through their paces on Champion Chase day.
If that trio go in, along with other market leaders like Champ and Altior, it will be think-of-a-number time for the bookies' PR teams. Fortunately, there look to be a few options that might save the layers from penury.
Allen and Tiger attempting to land short odds
The card starts with the Ballymore and although this could feature some really promising types, they might just be banging their head against a brick wall in the shape of Envoi Allen. Last year's Champion Bumper winner is still in the could-be-anything category, unbeaten in a point, four bumpers and three races over hurdles.
Envoi Allen has the best form in the race and is entitled to be a short price, the straw the layers might clutch at, a late change of plan and a switch to either the Supreme or even the Champion Hurdle.
Tiger Roll is currently at even shorter odds than Envoi Allen, in his bid to gain a fifth Cheltenham Festival win, much the likeliest winner of the cross country chase. It's hard to see why any of the horses he's beaten here before should turn the tables.
Easysland landed a gamble when winning a handicap over the course in November and has gone in again at Pau since, when he was sporting the colours of J. P. McManus for the first time. At Pau, gaining a sixth win in a row, Easysland once again showed himself a very nimble jumper for the most part, though he had to be shaken up after landing flat footed at the final hurdle.
The market suggests Easysland is the biggest danger to Tiger Roll, even though in form terms he will need to improve again. Of more interest at this stage are a couple of old lags from the ranks of 'proper' jumpers, Yanworth and Might Bite. It goes against the grain to contemplate backing Yanworth and he fell in Easysland's race here in the autumn, but has generally taken okay to the new discipline.
Might Bite is more tempting. Whether he will take to cross country is an unknown, but he has the ability to trouble Tiger Roll if he does, and he's probably the only one in this field of which that is true. He's been in the doldrums a while, but there were definite green shoots at Newbury last time and this is a much less competitive race than he's used to running in.
King and Queen make Bumper appeal
And so to Appreciate It in the Champion Bumper. He probably has the best form, but only just and he looks too short. A couple make appeal at speculative prices.
One is The Glancing Queen, who was better than the result when fifth behind Envoi Allen in what has proved a strong renewal last year and then went on to win the Nickel Coin against her own sex at Aintree. That form, too, has worked out really well, with the second and third unbeaten in five starts over hurdles between them and plenty of other winners this season further behind. The Glancing Queen hasn't run since, but an absence isn't usually a worry with a horse from Alan King's yard and that she has been entered for the Champion Bumper has to be encouraging.
Another to consider is Linelee King. He doesn't have the form in the book, having been a beaten favourite at Chepstow and then won, but only at Sedgefield, but he makes plenty of appeal on pedigree to cope with a higher grade.
Interestingly, when he was beaten at Chepstow, it was by Plenty In The Tank, who got a good ride from the front under Jack Tudor, who was stealing 7 lb at the time. Linelee King's connections must have been surprised to be beaten, as they subsequently bought the winner. Plenty In The Tank hasn't run since, but he has also been given a Cheltenham entry.
Hitman another for Nicholls in Winter?
Champ is currently favourite for the RSA Chase. He should be unbeaten over fences, on the floor when in total command at the track last time. He won the Sefton at Aintree on his only previous start at three miles and seems sure to be at least as effective going back up to that trip. He's the right favourite, but this looks trappy.
Minella Indo won the Albert Bartlett at 50/1 at last year's Festival and has bags of potential as a chaser, though he is a little short on experience. Battleofdoyen dealt a costly blow to the dark arts of paddock watching at last year's Festival, the most gorgeous looker but a flop in the Ballymore. He has done well over fences - as he blooming well should, on looks - though was running below form when falling last time.
Copperhead is the best British option, after Champ, though he would be more interesting in the National Hunt Chase. And then there is Faugheen. Perhaps the Golden Miller would be the better option, but he could well be the overpriced one on the day, if he turns up here.
The card is rounded out with two fiendish handicaps, the Coral Cup and the Boodles/Fred Winter. A thought on the latter - Paul Nicholls has a good record in the race, with three winners in the last ten runnings and several placed runners as well. All three winners had had experience over hurdles in France before coming to Britain. The 2016 winner Diego du Charmil and the 2014 runner-up Katgary were both making their first start in Britain when they ran in this race.
For all that this is really competitive, these runners have an edge in several ways, firstly in their ability to jump, having been trained for jumping first rather than as an afterthought, then having moved to a master trainer and finally by being very hard horses for the BHA handicapper to get a handle on. Take Hitman, who Nicholls has entered in the race this year.
Hitman has had three runs at Pau: the first was encouraging and the second a write-off, as he jumped badly left and the rider lost first his irons and then control, the horse going off the course. On his third start, Hitman won with any amount in hand and although the handicapper has gone high, at 141, that may well not be high enough.
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Back Might Bite at 15.014/1 for the cross-country chase
Back Hitman at 27.026/1 for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Back The Glancing Queen at 16/1 and Linelee King at 40/1 with Betfair Sportsbook for the Champion Bumper, NRNB